I had intended to make my last posting the final one for this year, but we had an interesting time getting back to New Zealand, which I would like to keep a record of and have summarised below.
Friday 27th September. This morning was another very early start – we had to catch a train just before 7am (the first of three trains to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport). I wasn’t looking forward to walking to the station but it is quite close (and apparently it is difficult to get a taxi). As it was early, we were able to walk along the road to the station, which was much easier going with our bags, than on the footpaths yesterday.
When we got to the Castelsarrasin station we weren’t sure which platform we needed to be on, but Dave checked that out. Unfortunately that meant going down and then up two steep sets of stairs – but he managed the two big bags, while I looked after the smaller ones. We had some time to spare so we snacked on cold pizza for breakfast. We had a short trip (in the opposite direction) to connect with a bigger train that took us to Bordeaux. (Dave was still feeling a bit jaded).
There were only seven minutes to get to that train, down and up even more steps than before, but we made it okay and enjoyed the 90 minute trip to Bordeaux – reminiscing as we went alongside the canal and through areas we have cycled along several times this year.
We arrived in Bordeaux on time but had only 11 minutes to get to our next train – once again down and up steep stairs – it is surprising (and frustrating) they don’t have lifts or escalators – poor Dave had to manage the big bags again (they are just too heavy for me to physically carry up and down stairs). We just got to our train on time. There wasn’t much space for our big bags and Dave had to lift them up onto a shelf high up – one slipped and he cut his leg – luckily not too badly – but he looked exhausted by the time he got to his seat.
It was a smooth and interesting three and a half hour trip to Paris. Dave was excited to go under the Golden Gate Bridge‘ he cycled over so many times when we were in Bordeaux.
We passed through attractive rolling countryside and interesting villages we have visited by car, such as Angouleme, and its magnificent church; Poitier with houses set into stone cliff face; and châteaux in Loire valley villages.
Dave managed to get some sleep and I caught up on this blog.
I’d also packed ‘left over’ food from the fridge and cupboard, which we enjoyed snacking on throughout the trip.
The announcements on the train were made in very rapid French and it wasn’t always easy for me to understand what was being said – at one stage, when it was 15 minutes past our scheduled arrival time, I began to wonder if we had missed our stop – we hadn’t and we soon arrived at CDG airport. It felt a bit strange arriving in Paris – having travelled over 860 kilometres in around five hours (almost the same distance from Wellington to Kerikeri). Apart from the hassle of the heavy bags, it has been a very smooth and effortless journey – all of a sudden La Caunette seemed so far away and our 2019 French Odyssey a distant past.
We made our way to where we had been advised our courtesy van would pick us up from. As we saw the shuttle bus arrive, it zoomed past us – stopping at the other end of the platform – that was the second time we have had some confusion about platforms.
However, we soon arrived at the hotel (Nomad Roissy) and were able to check in (which was great as we were a bit early). We stayed at this hotel in 2017. It is part of an eco-friendly hotel chain – it has lots of quirky features including a shower cubicle with interesting lighting, that sits in the corner of the bedroom. It feels a bit like I should be saying ‘Beam me up Scotty’.
Notice the funky towel hooks (blue women perched on the top of the shower surround). The TV is projected onto the wall and is controlled by a Samsung Tablet (that you also use to turn lighting on and off, open and close the blinds, and see how much water you have consumed). Dave was looking forward to watching some TV – unfortunately neither of us could get it to work – we later found out that the Hotel system was faulty.
The windows are also triple glazed (as the hotel is very close to the airport).
I put out the mixture of food I had kept from the boat (mainly processed meats of different kinds) and we had a late lunch.
We then had a quick nap, after which we had intended to go out – but the weather didn’t look that great and so we spent the rest of the day at the hotel (with nothing of any real interest ‘to write home’ about).
Saturday 28th September. We started our morning by having breakfast in the hotel dining area. It looked like a magnificent spread of a number of different types of breakfast (scrambled eggs and bacon, toast, continental, cold meat and spreads etc). Everything looked appetising, but disappointingly it all tasted much the same – bland. But I guess at least it ‘filled a gap’.
Back in our hotel room, I had a nice video call with my elder son and his family and then we made our way to check out and catch the hotel courtesy shuttle bus to the airport. Once we arrived at the airport, we joined a few other people who were waiting at a lift to take us down one level to ‘departures’. After a short while, it became obvious that the lift was stuck on level 3 – we waited a bit longer then followed other people who had gone to a lift about 40 metres further along the platform. We could see the lift was working but that it was taking a while to get to level 5 (where we were) – presumably because of people getting in and out with their luggage at each level. When the lift finally arrived, despite its being full, only one person got out (and was replaced by the first person in the waiting queue). When the doors closed, two American women in the queue commented that it was the second time the three men left in the lift (with trolleys loaded with boxes and big suitcase) had come up in the lift. It took another five minutes or so before the lift had gone down and come back up again. The same three men were still in the lift. This happened a third time. At this stage, one of the waiting American women told the three men to get out of the lift – they did so, but then got back in when someone from the back of the lift (which would have been the front when they got in) came out. As the lift doors were closing I saw two women who had been pushing and shoving behind me to get to the front of the queue, had actually managed to ‘slip’ past us while we were standing aside to let the men out with their trolleys. We decided to go back to the first lift, as it looked like people had got into it – but we realised once again that it was stuck, but now on level 2. By this stage we had probably already waited 20 minutes at least to get a lift, so Dave suggested to ‘bite the bullet’ and use the stairs.
Having accomplished that, we discovered that we needed to go down another level to the CDGVAL (Charles de Gaulle airport shuttle train) to take us to Terminal 1. This time there was an escalator – I do not like getting on to an escalator at the best of times, so I asked Dave to help me get my big suitcase on – he did this but then worried that it wasn’t sitting properly on the step, so jumped on to move the bag – when he tried to go back up the escalator he slipped and gashed his leg and hurt his hand. It was bleeding and must have been very painful, but he stoically said it was okay and just put a tissue over it and pulled up his socks to hold it in place – his main concern was that people would see he had his Sunday (labelled) socks on (when it was Saturday). While waiting for the train, I turned around and saw there was a lift next to the escalator we could have used.
Just as Dave got to the train the doors closed, but we didn’t have to wait very long for the next one to arrive. It certainly is quite a complex transport system.
Once in Terminal One, we made our way to where we needed to check in. That meant going up another level – having learnt a lesson going down the last level, I took the elevator, while Dave went up the escalator with his bags. I then misread a sign and we ended going up the lift to arrivals, instead of departures, but that was just a case of going back down a level and into the other side of the lift ‘bank’’. We soon found where we needed to be. As I had checked us in on-line, I just had to find the kiosk where I could print off our boarding passes and luggage tags (it seems that not many people check in online as there were very long queues for the check in counters) – it only took a few minutes to finalise our check in and drop off our bags – both our bags were just under the 30 kilogram allowance which was a relief.
Although we had quite a lot of time to spare we decided to go into the departures lounge as we have found in the past, that there can be very long queues at the passport checking area. We scanned our boarding passes and entered into the departures hall. As you may know, Terminal 1 at CDG is donut shaped with travellators/people conveyor belts, enclosed in a tube connecting the different levels inside the outer ring. We knew we had to go up a level, so I went into the first travellator we came too – unfortunately this took us up two levels to arrivals – there was no easy way down this time – none of the travellators went down and there were prominent notices saying it was illegal to go back down them. It took us quite a lot of time and enquiries to different people before we managed to find a lift that would take us back to the base of the travellator. This time I left Dave to read the signs and we eventually ended up at border control. Last time we had to queue for over an hour to get through – the queue was much shorter this time and one of the ’officials’ noticed I had an EU passport so redirected me to another area (and let Dave come with me). There was no wait there (which probably saved us a good half hour) – in typical French fashion there were only two officers processing the 100 plus people in the queue we were in first, and two at the EU section.
After a bit of a walk around the few shops on airside, we went to the gate that our plane would leave from. There weren’t any seats next to it and Dave was convinced they were through some doors he could see the crew going through. He made his way to them but was turned back and politely advised that the waiting area was to one side (where I had already seated myself). Other than that the remainder of our wait and boarding went smoothly.
We boarded the plane in due course, and as usual Dave took the window seat. As we took off he reckons the wing tips lifted at least two metres and he was interested to see a stream of water vapour go up and over the wing.
We had a good flight. Although we were quite comfortable, the service was excellent and there was very little turbulence, neither of us got much sleep – I watched four French movies and Dave filled in his time listening to music and watching movies and TV documentaries.
Sunday 29th September. We arrived at Singapore Changi Airport at 6.20am, about 30 minutes ahead of schedule, despite having been late taking off – I guess we must have had a tail wind.
Once off the plane we found somewhere comfortable to sit where we could sort out what we wanted to do during our 18 hour stop over. Dave picked up a brochure and discovered we could go on a free tour (as we had a stop-over of more than five-and-a-half hours). We therefore made our way to where we could book this. As we approached the area, we could see there was a very long queue, even for so early in the morning, so we decided to check in our carry-on luggage at the left luggage counter and make our own way into Singapore.
The left luggage area was very poorly managed with only one woman on the counter and there was quite a complicated procedure of checking bags, passports and boarding passes and paying. Thirty minutes later we had that completed.
Walking back through the airport, Dave stopped to admire an electric Jaguar, while I enjoyed one of the many interesting displays.
During this time we rethought what we would do and decided to go on the free tour. When we got back to the counter, there was still a queue but it was much shorter. By the time it was our turn to be served, the first available tour was at 2.30 pm (and it was still only 8 am). However, as we were flying with Singapore Airlines we were offered a walking tour of the recently opened Jewel complex at the airport. We had to report back to the counter at 9.20 am, meaning we had an hour to kill. Dave, having spotted a Burger King, was quick to suggest what we should do.
After a short wait, back at the tour counter we were greeted by our guide, and introduced to the only other person on the tour (a young, gregarious and heavily tattooed woman from Manchester). We then had to go through passport control – Jewel is open to the public so we had to leave ‘air side’.
Our guide was very cheerful and chatted away as she took us to Terminal One – about 10 minutes walk away. (Singapore Changi Airport, commonly known as Changi Airport, seems to be getting bigger and bigger. It is currently rated the World’s Best Airport by Skytrax for the seventh consecutive year since 2013. It is also the first Airport in the world to do so for seven consecutive years and is one of the world’s busiest airports by cargo traffic and international passenger, serving 62 million travellers each year). On the way we passed some interesting sculptures.
The last part of our walk to Jewel, took us along travellators, over a 800 metre footbridge.
Jewel is a 10 storey, fully enclosed and air conditioned complex, built on a former carpark. The first thing we saw as we reached it was a collection of large elegant floral balls hanging from the ceiling. They were made up mainly of tillandsia (air plants) but included orchids.
As we entered the complex we could see its centrepiece – the HSBC Rain Vortex. At 40 metres tall, with water falling down from the oculus in the roof to the basement, it is an impressive sight. The water is recycled, with rain water added to it as it is collected. Apparently there is a light and sound show each evening on the hour, starting at 7;30pm – we thought that would be worth going back to.
We walked down to it and then around the Shiseido Forest Valley that surrounds it. This is one of Singapore’s largest indoor gardens, housing over 900 trees and 60,000 shrubs. These lush gardens go up four storeys and include rocky falls and mists of water. However, there are no birds or other fauna (although Dave did see a snail).
There was an interesting reflection of the waterfall in the pool surrounding it.
The guide took us down to the bottom floor (five storeys are below ground level, and five are above) to the Immersion Garden, where the waterfall ends.
The waterfall and gardens are encircled by a huge array of international and local high street brand shops (there are over 280 shops). We went into the Coffee Museum – this is a coffee shop where we were treated to a free sample of ‘cold brew’ coffee. There is also a room set aside as a small museum. It has pictures and panels to read about the past and some interesting objects. The centre of the room is a giant coffee machine. The museum room also has a recreated scene of a man making coffee.
Our guide then took us on to the large Five Spices Foodhall, where we were offered a sample of several local delicacies.
I experienced a bit of a hard sell, from the woman who organised the food for us, to buy some of her spice mixes and nearly ended up buying a packet of turmeric, ginger and pepper mix (a spoonful a day is meant to be great for relieving the symptoms of arthritis) but at $25 I decided it would be a lot cheaper to make my own once back home.
We then took a lift up to the top level to the Canopy Park, a 14,000 square metres recreational park which has more gardens and fun attractions. We walked past the Hedge Maze and the Mirror Maze but stopped to admire the interesting display in the Topiary Walk.
We saw children enjoying themselves in puffs of cloud and bowls of mist at the Foggy Bowls.
There are also big nets suspended five storeys above the ground – some you can walk on, others you bounce on – we decided to give them a miss but I imagine they would be fun to go on.
Of course we had to take a leisurely stroll through the Petal Garden.
At this point the guide left us to carry on at our own leisure. While the tour had been interesting, there was a strong focus on promoting and encouraging us to buy things from the various shops we visited. We decided to go back to the Terminal, with a view to possibly going back to Jewel in the evening. We realised there was plenty to see and do to fill in time rather than needing to go into the city.
On our way back to Terminal Two, much to Dave’s delight, we passed by another electric Jaguar.
When we reached the restricted entry, we discovered we wouldn’t be able to go out of it again – however, we were not bothered as we both feeling a bit weary. We can also spend more time at Jewel next time we pass through Singapore.
We found a reasonably quiet and comfortable place to ‘park’ ourselves. Dave went and collected our bags from left luggage and then we both dozed off in our chairs. I woke after about 45 minutes and felt quite refreshed. Dave slept on another 45 minutes during which time I published my last blog post.
Once Dave was awake, I went and had a look at the new butterfly garden. It was a nice garden. However, I only saw a handful of butterflies (it may have been a bit late in the day for them, or maybe there aren’t many).
The feeding stations were pretty.
On the way back to re-join Dave I bought some takeaway food from the nearby Foodcourt. I had been hankering for some fish ball soup and I also ended up buying some mutton satay (because a mistake I made on the rather complicated ordering terminal). Dave had said he wasn’t hungry before I left but ate a good portion of what I returned with.
Dave was keen to get to the boarding gate early, so we made our way to it and spent the rest of our waiting time there.
There seemed to be less leg room on the plane than the one we had caught from Paris, so Dave felt a bit cramped. However, he managed to stretch out (into ‘my’ space) and overall we were quite comfortable. We had another smooth flight, with excellent service, albeit once again we got very little sleep – I didn’t feel tired and time passed quickly.
Monday 30th September to Saturday 5th October. As we descended into Melbourne, there was an interesting reflection of the plane in the clouds.
We landed about 30 minutes early. All went well with disembarking, picking up our bags, clearing border control and meeting up with my brother who was waiting for us in his car at the ‘pick up’ point.
We spent a very relaxing and enjoyable time with John and Anne doing a lot of nothing. The weather was good and I helped out with a small amount of gardening (not as much as intended). I also helped out with cooking and we went out a couple of times for dinner and overall ate and drank too much!
Boris (the cat) kept Dave company.
We went and saw Come From Away – a Broadway musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, based on the events in the week following the 9/11 attacks on America, when 38 planes were ordered to land in the small Canadian town of Gander. This true story tells the tale of the town who kept 7,000 stranded visitors housed and fed following the biggest tragedy the US had seen. The set was very simple and remained the same throughout the 100 minutes (with no interval). There was a cast of 12 who switched roles by putting on a different jacket and/or hat – it was very clever how they achieved that and it was amazing how much energy they put into the show.
Dave went for a ride on his motorbike with one of John’s employees (who was riding his $80,000 Confederate Hell Cat).
It also gave us a chance to adjust to the change in time zones – I must admit I slept in quite late each morning so it will be a bit of a shock to the system when I need to get up early for work after six plus months of very leisurely get ups!
Monday 6th October. We were up very early as we had to be at the airport just before 6.00am. All went very smoothly with checking in, boarding and our flight to Wellington. Once again we enjoyed excellent service and there was very little turbulence. I used the time of the relatively short flight to type up this post, and soon we were on our approach to Wellington. As we descended through the clouds we got some great views of the Kahurangi National Park, the Nelson Lakes District and snowcapped Kaikoura Mountains and then the windmills at Makara and Colonial Knob.
And then we were landed. Dave’s daughter Haley, and grandchildren Braxton and Peyton picked us up. On the way home to the caravan, we stopped to pick up the Land Rover out of storage – it started first time.
It was a lovely sunny Spring day – it felt good to be home.
Well, that’s the end of our French Odyssey for this year. I hope you have enjoyed sharing it with us. Best wishes until next year.